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St. Albert releases COVID-19 task force report amid rising case count

Councillors noted their disappointment at the ongoing pandemic, but highlighted the report's continuing importance for the city going forward.
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St. Albert's COVID-19 Recovery Task Force welcomed Timothy Buckland to the team during the first meeting of 2021. SCREENSHOT

St. Albert’s COVID-19 Recovery Task Force has released its final report, which aims to inform city council’s priorities during the ongoing pandemic.

Composed of 11 members, the COVID-19 recovery task force was established in May 2020 to generate strategies to assist residents, not-for-profit organizations, and businesses in recovering from the impact of the pandemic. 

Now, the COVID-19 task force has released a final report, council heard Aug. 30. Presented by two Task Force members, Sandyne Beach McCutcheon and Jason Krips, the presentation identified four key priority areas: accessible services and programs, policies to help grow the local economy, social profit and business resiliency, and community connectedness. 

These priority areas guided 15 recommendations in the report. Some of the recommendations included collaborating with regional partners to generate revenue opportunities, identifying opportunities to support local and regional businesses, and expanding opportunities to increase neighbourhood and community connection.

McCutcheon noted the recommendations in the report are intended to be an input to the next council’s future strategic planning and budgeting conversations.

“We have all come to understand full community recovery will require a community effort and likely years to completely effect,” McCutcheon said. 

Some action items accomplished by the task force include a permanent driveway fire pit program, development bonds, advocacy for a COVID-19 testing site in St. Albert, and enhanced flexibility for restaurant patios. 

Additionally, the task force spurred the establishment of a business resiliency program to support local COVID-19 recovery efforts by helping businesses develop their marketing and digital presence. 

According to the report, 60 grant applications have been processed and $49,148.50 has been allocated to support St. Albert local businesses.

Mayor Cathy Heron — who also sat on the task force — thanked McCutcheon and Krips, saying she appreciated how the task force meetings became an avenue to talk about “everything under the sun” on what could be done to improve St. Albert. 

“What bubbled up for me throughout all this was getting people outside and making recreation accessible so those that don’t have the same financial means can get outside in the city,” Heron said, “Because of COVID-19 that was a necessity, but I’m hoping post-COVID-19 it will be something that resonates with our community.”

Report released amid fourth wave

The report was released amid rising COVID-19 cases in St. Albert and Alberta at-large.

On Monday, Alberta broke its pandemic Intensive Care Unit record with 202 COVID-19 patients. The record was previously set during the second wave at 182, on May 18.

Coun. Sheena Hughes also thanked the presenters and the task force for their work, which she called “valuable.”

“My disappointment has nothing to do with you,” Hughes said. “My concern is this committee is coming to a close and yet the situation in front of us hasn’t.”

Coun. Ken MacKay — who was also on the task force alongside Heron and Coun. Jacquie Hansen — seconded Hughes in noting the pandemic is still underway.

“One of the strengths of the task force recommendations are they aren't just one-offs, they can continue forward, and we can build on them,” MacKay said. “You've provided us with a foundational document that I think will be the envy of other communities looking at post-pandemic recovery.”

Chamber weighs in

Members of the St. Albert District Chamber of Commerce sat on the task force for its duration, including former Chamber president Jennifer McCurdy. 

Curtis Course, current Chamber president, said the report was “good, thoughtful work.”

“There’s no silver bullet, but I think the report will help the city going forward,” Crouse said. 

Specifically, he highlighted the report’s dual focus on accelerating growth and investment, and social initiatives. 

“That’s the sort of balance we need,” Crouse said. “This isn’t an economic recovery, or a social recovery, it’s really a recovery that touches every part of the community.”

When asked if the Chamber had any ongoing concerns amid the pandemic, Crouse pinpointed the lack of leadership from the provincial government, specifically on vaccine passports. 

“There has to be proper mechanisms put in place by the provincial or federal governments,” Crouse said. “It can’t be left to municipalities or individual businesses.”